How's My Driving?

LAST YEAR, HIGHWAY FATALITIES reached their highest level since 1990 and cost the United States more than $230 billion. For commercial fleets, those costs go directly to the bottom line in increased operating expenses. Because drivers ultimately are responsible behind the wheel, driver monitoring and feedback programs can be a good method for companies to minimize future losses.

Four factors contribute to the vast majority of collisions. Equipment malfunction accounts for less than 5 percent of all collisions. The next factor is roadway design, although it is rarely the cause. Poor roadway maintenance is a possibility, but good driving often can compensate for it. The final and most prevalent factor in vehicle crashes is driver behavior, which is involved in more than 95 percent of crashes. Characteristics of poor driver behavior include excessive speed, frequent or unsafe lane changes, failure to signal, tailgating, failure to yield the right of way, disregarding traffic controls, and impaired driving.

Prevention efforts must emphasize a combination of education, enforcement and engineering controls. Many fleets are turning to improved driver selection, certification programs, driver training, employee incentives and regular vehicle maintenance. Such programs provide incremental cost improvements but cannot always deliver consistent results. Driver monitoring and feedback programs, however, can improve driver behavior on the road, and thus reduce crashes and lower costs.

For example, Los Angeles-based Ampco System Parking reduced crashes after installing video technology and management software by DriveCam Video Systems, San Diego. The company was averaging 27 at-fault collisions per month because its drivers were being careless. By recording sights and sounds from the vehicle and providing the driver with immediate feedback, the company significantly reduced its collision rate. During the next year, the company reduced at-fault collisions to 12 per month, a 56 percent reduction.

In most claims involving commercial fleets, the benefit of the doubt usually goes against the commercial fleet driver. Vehicle crashes generally are covered by insurance policies and may include worker's compensation, physical automobile damage, automobile liability, short- and long-term disability, group medical and uninsured motorist coverage. However, commercial fleets with poor loss records are seeing increases of 100 percent and higher in automobile insurance rates. Moreover, given that companies face insured and uninsured costs from vehicle collisions, influencing driver behavior can greatly increase profitability and competitiveness.

When drivers are counseled on their behavior, they can help fleets lower the frequency and severity of collisions. Simultaneously, driver monitoring can lower liability costs, speed insurance processing and reduce fleet operation and maintenance costs. Not all collisions can be eliminated, but preventing crashes with a fleet safety program and driver feedback can, over time, reduce financial losses by at least 50 percent.